Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Ben Cima since he first picked up the sport of football this summer is waiting. As a rugby player for Gonzaga and the United States U-18 national team, Cima is accustomed to sprinting around the field in the rough-and-tumble sport, not watching the action from the sideline as the Eagles’ field-goal kicker.
“In football as a kicker, your whole responsibility is centered around kicking field goals, so it’s a little different specializing in one thing,” Cima said. “I always have to make sure I’m up warming up and not just sitting around.”
As Gonzaga’s football team drove down the field during the waning seconds of Sunday’s contest against Cocoa (Fla.), the outcome of the game fell on Cima’s foot. Shaking off an earlier miss from 36 yards and a Cocoa timeout just before his attempt, the first-year player calmly nailed a 35-yard field goal as time expired to give Gonzaga a 17-14 win at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
“I felt the pressure, but I’ve been in those situations before with rugby and the coaches got me calmed down and focused on the technique,” Cima said. “The kick was from the left hash and that’s something we practice all the time.”
Before July, Cima had never kicked a field goal from anywhere on an American football field. It wasn’t until a Gonzaga football assistant football saw Cima shine in a rugby contest earlier this year that Brady convinced the 6-foot senior to come out for Gonzaga’s preseason practices. Cima said he is still learning how to consistently hit the sweet spot on the football and adjust to the different size of the ball for his duties as kicker and punter. But after seeing Cima hit field goals from 50 yards out in practice and knowing the level of excellence he’s reached in rugy, Brady has full confidence in his newest player and starter.
“He’s a great option for us,” Brady said, “so when we got the ball in the last minute, our plan was to just get him in range and we knew he would come through.”
Cima’s kick punctuated a strong second game for the Eagles, who fell 35-28 to Charlotte Catholic in their season opener. Unlike the previous week, when Charlotte Catholic and nationally-ranked running back Elijah Hood rushed for 325 and five touchdowns, Brady said Gonzaga’s defense played stronger and proved key in overcoming some of the team’s offensive struggles, including three turnovers and nine penalties. Still, the Eagles received another impressive outing from junior running back Reggie Corbin, who rushed for 111 yards.
“We had some growing pains that we’re going to have to learn from, but there’s also a lot we can build on,” Brady said. “It’s huge for us to pull out a win like this and learn how to win in close games.”
For as much as West Potomac Coach Jeremiah Davis wanted to move past Thursday’s 51-7 loss to No. 5 Centreville, the second-year coach still had to address the collateral damage from the contest. In the first quarter, starting quarterback Preston Jones slowly walked off the field crading his right arm. The junior would soon learn that his arm was broken and season is likely over due to the required six-to-eight-week recovery time.
The Wolverines also saw outside linebacker Alimamy Kargbo go down with a broken hand and strong safety George Williams IV tear a ligament in his hand. Davis expects both senior players to return within the next week or two to join a team that he anticipates will be refocused and primed for success.
“Centreville is probably the most physical and biggest team that we’ll see all season,” Davis said. “I told our guys that that’s a good thing that we saw them in Week 1 because it will prepare us for the future.”
Davis found a potentially viable replacement at quarterback in Shahyeim Wellman and all-purpose player Demornay Pierson-el. While Wellman displayed an ability to use his legs in making plays outside the pocket, Pierson-el showcased dual-threat ability. The Nebraska recruit, who totaled 75 rushing yards and showed signs of a strong arm, connected with R. Marquis Saldona on an 87-yard pass for the Wolverines’ lone touchdown.